The call came at a bad time. We’d loaded the airplane and buckled in three passengers. I was just climbing into the cockpit.
Pancho hurried up. “Capitán, emergency in Bufeo! Snake bite. Pregnant woman.”
I stopped mid-climb. “How long?”
“Two, maybe three hours ago.”
Our eyes met, knowing. Snake bite victims had a 50% chance of survival if they got medical help within four hours. Bufeo lay 45 minutes east, but sun set in two hours. The rest of our fleet was too far away. This plane and I were her only earthly hope—if I left now.
Pancho dropped to knees, unloading the pod. I hopped down, hurried around the plane, leaned in the 206’s big doors, untied knots, and told travelers they weren’t going home today after all. While they scrambled out, Pancho and I piled cargo on the ramp. I removed two right-side seats and prepared a patient bed on the floor with pad and straps. Then I checked all doors were latched, people and cargo clear, wheel chocks removed. In the cockpit I forced myself to slow for each checklist task, wiping sweaty palms across knees. Engine start, checklist, taxi, another checklist. Takeoff. Fast climb east to 5,500’.
Forty-three minutes later I inspected Bufeo from above. The dancing windsock said I’d have a gusting tailwind for landing. Fun. The approach was, indeed, like juggling cats. But I hit the right spot, braked hard and lurched to a stop. Not smooth, but accurate.
Wailing. Amazon jungle residents knew only two states of health—well or dying. The woman they carried on a blanket was clearly not the former. Baby swelled her belly, poison her leg. I jumped from my perch, ran around the plane and opened the big doors. Their gentleness laying her on the pad contrasted with the cacophony storming around us. Hands reached from the pressing crowd, touching her, touching me. Husband stood there, hollow and ashen, his wide, unbelieving eyes, asking “Can you help?”
I strapped her in, looking for the first time. Young, like my bride with our first child. Suddenly, tears from some hidden locker—unbidden, neither professional nor controllable. “Let’s pray.” I managed. The wailing stopped. In new silence I asked Jesus for healing, committing mother, baby and father to Christ’s mercy. Then, in mind’s eye, I reached over to my internal control panel, found the switch labeled “Emotions,” and turned it off. Neither empathy nor tears would serve them now, only good flying.
I repeated the drill—closed doors, cleared the area, obeyed more checklists, and took off. During our climb west to 6,500’, I radioed Pancho for a waiting ambulance. En route I looked in back. Still alive, eyes clinched, she gripped her husband. We landed 10 minutes before sunset and sent them to the mission hospital.
God granted them (and me) mercy. A month later she, with baby sleeping in a cloth pouch against her chest, returned home alive.
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